Portland Marriage Counselor: Fairy Tale View May Damage Marriage

September 24, 2014 by

In fairy tales and romantic comedies, it’s clear from the beginning of the story that the two protagonists were destined to be together. And a lot of the language that we pick up from these fictionalized versions of romance spills over into the real world—we may describe our partner as being our “better half” or our “soul mate” and say that “we were meant to be together.” While the sentiment might be sweet, this mentality can actually hurt your relationship when conflicts arise.

That’s what a recent study in The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found, at least. The researchers behind the study primed couples to think about their relationship from a unity perspective (the “made for each other” perspective) through either words, pictures, or a nonverbal task, and found that participants in this mindset were less well-equipped to handle relationship conflict than couples who were not primed to think of their relationship this way.

What’s Wrong with the “Soul Mate” Ideal?

The main problem with the unity or “soul mate” perspective is that it places your relationship on an unrealistic pedestal. When conflict arises, the idea that you and your partner are perfectly in sync is shattered, and you’re more likely to see the conflict as a source of failure than as an opportunity to grow. You may feel more vulnerable and wonder if you and your partner were truly “meant to be together.”

The key to avoiding this potentially harmful mindset is to frame your relationship in a different way. The researchers found that couples who were primed to think of their relationship as a journey that they’re on together were much better equipped to work through a conflict together. That could be because journeys aren’t as idealized as soul mates; it’s expected that there will be ups and downs on a journey, and while you might be traveling with your partner, you’re not always going to agree about everything.

The next time you and your partner face a conflict in your relationship, take a step back and ask yourself how you’re thinking about your relationship in this moment. By being more aware of how your relationship frame of mind affects your reasoning, you’ll be better able to address the conflict in a positive manner.

If you need further advice about how to constructively handle conflict in your relationship, think about scheduling an appointment with a Portland marriage counselor.